Sun, Dec 15, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Firm sets sights on heavens as space industry develops

‘FLYING SQUIRREL’:TiSPACE plans to test-launch a hybrid rocket later this month and start providing commercial launch services in the third quarter of next year

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

Taiwan Innovative Space Inc chairman Chen Yen-sen points to a model of the company’s rocket at his office in Miaoli County on Nov. 22.

Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times

Taiwan is accelerating its progress in space technology after nearly three decades of development. Next year is to see the inauguration of the nation’s first undergraduate department for space science and engineering, as well as the commencement of commercial operations of its first rocket company.

The Ministry of Science and Technology in January announced the start of the nation’s third space program, which is to run until 2028. Led by the semi-official National Space Organization (NSPO), the program mainly focuses on developing high-resolution remote sensing satellites and synthetic aperture radar satellites, as well as fostering the domestic space industry.

While the NSPO had previously engaged in sounding rocket development, it did not continue related plans after 2014. Rocket scientists at National Cheng Kung University and National Chiao Tung University who were previously supported by the NSPO turned to crowdfunding or other means to support their research.

A relatively weak area of Taiwan’s space technology, rocket development seems more likely to succeed outside of government-led programs, especially as two domestic forerunners with complementary strengths have joined forces.

Taiwan Innovative Space Inc (TiSPACE), the nation’s first commercial rocket supplier, and National Central University (NCU) on Nov. 11 signed a memorandum of understanding to promote satellite launch services and related technologies.

The faculty at the Taoyuan-based NCU Graduate Institute of Space Science and Engineering has played an essential role in previous satellite programs. Faculty members helped design, fabricate and test the advanced ionosphere probe installed on Formosat-5 — the nation’s first domestically developed satellite, which was launched into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2017.

In August next year, NCU is to start admitting undergraduate students for its newly established Department of Space Science and Engineering, previously a division of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, institute professor Loren Chang (張起維) told the Taipei Times on Nov. 18.

Chang studied physics at the University of California, Irvine and obtained his master’s and doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.

NCU’s plan to cultivate more space talent echoes the global trend, as many firms, including SpaceX, are planning to launch more small satellites as platforms to develop 6G communication and telemetry service networks, Chang said.

Next year, TiSPACE is to launch the institute’s ionosphere scintillation package in a suborbital flight, he said.

While the flight is projected to last only about 10 minutes, it would allow them to test the package’s functionality and stability in a space setting, he added.

Developed by institute director Chao Chi-kuang (趙吉光), the package is to measure ionospheric plasma bubbles that cause “scintillation” in satellite navigation and communications signals — events in which signal strength can fade rapidly and transmissions can be disrupted, Chang said.

Ordinary GPS has a precision level of nearly 5m, but autonomous vehicles and calibrators for buildings or railways require centimeter precision, he said.

Plasma bubbles are believed to be triggered by waves that cause atmospheric turbulence, Chang said.

Modeling the effects of turbulence is a difficult field in physics, as any marginal error would result in broad differences, which applies to space weather analysis as well, he said.

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